October 18, 2010

What I thought of Hannah Coulter

I have a room in my imagination where the walls are lined with paintings, full of fields and full of faces. Beside each painting in its gilded frame is a white screen, like a blank board, but I sense that it's more alive than that. For constantly I go to the screens with an old cloth and a spray bottle of water, and rub and rub to get them clean. But as soon as I've scrubbed them - hard in the center and all around the edges - they start sketching, etching brown marks onto the surface. And as I turn back to look, I realize why I was trying so hard to keep the screens blank.

Inside the painting I've just passed, I see people in stories, connected to one another. I step backwards into the center of the room, now a great hall, and I'm reeling with so many paintings before me at once. Here's a whole history laid out, births and friendships and deaths and loves, always loves. But the faces - the faces are what stand out to me. They're living, and I think I can see myself in some of them. And as I draw closer to look more intently, I see that the other faces - the ones that aren't me - are matching the drawings on the white boards: every line and pencil-mark is being transferred to a richly-painted interaction. When I've cleaned a board, the corresponding face is hazy, undefined; it's a telling and I am a hearer. This, this is what I wanted.

I can pause with my cloth resting still on the clean screen, and held, the pictures shimmer and move me. If those stories are mine - I hope they are - then I won't go writing them myself. If they're not mine, I can't claim them as my own, but only appreciate them by beholding them. In this measured balance, the moment is sacred. But I can't stay. I turn to go until I find myself standing at the doorway. One last look, and I slowly turn off the light, and pull the door shut, sealed. I'll keep tonight forever.


Michael said...

I'm listening very intently, and I think I begin to understand, but . . . I don't know. (It would seem hypocritical for me to explain what I understand, if I do understand it)